Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Huckabee on Abortion

Ok, we've bashed around Ron Paul long enough. It's time to say a few words about Mike Huckabee, specifically on the issue of abortion. I quote from this article:

"It's the logic of the Civil War," Huckabee said Sunday, comparing abortion rights to slavery. "If morality is the point here, and if it's right or wrong, not just a political question, then you can't have 50 different versions of what's right and what's wrong...For those of us for whom this is a moral question, you can't simply have 50 different versions of what's right.
I give Huckabee credit here: as far as abortion prohibition goes, he's not taking the road of the sly and cowardly Dr. Paul. Paul, as you should remember, just tried to change the legal definition of person so that it would also include zygotes, while simultaneously claiming he was leaving the abortion issue for each state to decide (ignoring the ramifications of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.)

Nope. Mike Huckabee is all for biting the bullet Ronald Dworkin fired in one of his books (I forget which one), in which he claimed that, if anti-abortion folk really believe abortion is murder, why don't they also believe it should be banned across the country?

Ron Paul ducks the bullet, but Mike Huckabee has shown he's willing to embrace it. Enthusiastic about it, even. Huckabee thinks that states should have no choice but to ban abortion. According to Huckabee, Massachusetts, California, and other liberal enclaves should have the same abortion policy as Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. 

Over at Lew Rockwell's blog, the neo-Confederate jackals are suggesting Huckabee probably couldn't explain the concept of federalism without the aid of a dictionary. And they're wrong, as usual.

Here's a little hint for them: federalism doesn't mean every state gets to decide each and every policy issue on its own. If that were so, then each state would be a separate, sovereign nation. Perhaps that's the world Lew Rockwell and friends want, since they're such big fans of southern secession and all.

Federalism leaves some decisions up to the states, and puts others under the authority of the federal government. This is all set out in a fairly short document known as the Constitution of the United States of America.

But, as Huckabee would admit, you can't just pass the buck to the Constitution. You have to ask the further question, which decisions in particular should be left up to states to decide, and which ones should rest with the federal government? By what criteria should we decide?

Now some decisions just can't be made effectively at a state level, for all the reasons that came to light during the time of the Articles of Confederation. There are good, practical reasons to put certain decisions under the control of the federal government, rather than leaving them for each state to decide separately. You can find a series of arguments concerning which decisions should be left for the federal government to decide and why in a handy-dandy series of articles we now know as the Federalist Papers. The articles were written by these guys, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. With some help from their pal John Jay.

In any event, practicality isn't the only reason to delegate authority over some issue to the federal government. The United States would not cease to function if a few states stopped women from voting, or allowed the enslavement of blacks. Practicality is not the only (or even the most important) reason to support the 13th and 19th Amendments. Prohibiting slavery and enshrining universal suffrage is also a matter of justice.

Huckabee is a great communicator, but his argument in the above quotation is unsubtle. It's not the case that every issue involving right and wrong must be settled at the federal level. Sometimes it might be better to allow state legislatures to decide wrongly, but freely, then to impose the morally best policy on all of the states.

But issues of justice can't be left up to the states. One might think that it is simply not permissible to allow certain states to enact truly unjust policy, and there is no question that abortion opponents consider the legalization of abortion deeply, deeply unjust. On issues of justice, one might believe, it is simply not possible to "let a thousand flowers bloom." It was wrong to even allow other states to allow their citizens to keep other human beings as slaves. It was unjust.

So I think Huckabee is right: if abortion is the killing of a person, if it is an issue of justice, then it is simply immoral to allow the practice to continue anywhere within the United States. And I think Ron Paul is incoherent to hold both that abortion is the killing of a person and that states should be able to decide whether to allow the practice to continue or not.

If Ron Paul believes what he says about abortion, then he ought to bite the same bullet as Huckabee, and "states' rights" be damned.

Of course, one could deny that abortion is the killing of a person in the relevant sense -- that it is not, in fact, an issue of justice. And one could hold, further, that ensuring the autonomy of women is an issue of justice. If this is what one believes, then one should support neither Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul. But the neo-Confederates are wrong to suggest that Huckabee's anti-abortion policy shows that he is ignorant about federalism.

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